Oddsmakers in New York and Las Vegas give Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida a roughly one in four chance of being elected the next president of the United States. Those odds are as good as anybody’s right now. There is growing interest in what a DeSantis presidency might look like. But what are the governor’s public policy priorities? Is there a DeSantis doctrine? I’ll suggest there is, and it seems to have three main components:
Politically - govern effectively and win elections.
Domestically - preserve traditional freedoms and push back against the woke-industrial complex.
Internationally - guard against America’s self-described adversaries overseas.
Politically, the appeal of DeSantis is straightforward: he wins. Not only that, he does so by a large margin, while governing effectively. The governor won re-election in November by a landslide. He defeated his opponent Charlie Crist by almost 20 points. DeSantis won counties and constituencies that are not supposed to vote Republican. Miami-Dade county, typically a Democratic Party stronghold, cast its ballots for the governor. So did Hispanic voters throughout the state. DeSantis has shown he can win over swing constituents. A state once considered purple is now—Democrats worry—lost to them. For conservatives, it’s a promising indicator of what might be accomplished on the national level.
Of course, Republicans will first have to decide whether they want to win elections, govern effectively, and exercise political power on behalf of a conservative agenda. If the answer is no, then Florida’s governor may not be the guy.
Also worth noting is the DeSantis style of governance. By all accounts, he has an appetite for information, combined with skepticism toward the notion that the experts are always right. He pores over data and listens to a range of opinions, then decides for himself. It was exactly this approach that led him to reject the conventional wisdom during the early weeks and months of the pandemic shutdown, and correctly so. Of course, this was viewed as madness by liberal critics at the time. Nevertheless, he persisted, and was vindicated in the end.
DeSantis also revealed a similar administrative proficiency in his response to Hurricane Ian last year. Florida has over 22 million people, and it is an unusually big, diverse state possessing an economy larger than most countries. Governing it successfully is no small task. Proven executive skills from outside of the Beltway will be of interest to American voters in the coming year.
In terms of his domestic policy outlook, perhaps the most striking aspect of the governor’s approach is his willingness to directly take on what might be called the woke-industrial complex. Most conservatives understand that the ideology of left-wing identity politics now serves as a kind of substitute religion for powerful socioeconomic interests in this country. This was not true in Ronald Reagan’s time, but it is now. For that reason, while Reagan was an excellent president, his approach cannot simply be photocopied to face the challenges of today. DeSantis made this point explicitly in a fascinating address to the National Conservativism conference in Miami last September.
As the governor suggested in that address, a baseline conservative American commitment within the economic realm is to free enterprise, individual liberty, and material opportunity for ordinary citizens. Hard work should be rewarded, and self-destructive socialistic schemes avoided. Obviously, DeSantis has no objection to a market economy. As he put it, “I’m not a central planner.” Both his words and his actions as governor indicate his determination to create and safeguard a friendly environment for business entrepreneurship whether big or small. Florida has flourished as a result. It is a point of pride.
Where DeSantis departs from strict libertarians—and this is where you should watch his speech for yourself, rather than relying on hostile journalistic misrepresentations—is in calling out what he correctly identifies as the danger of woke capitalists, and then doing something about it.
As Vivek Ramaswamy argued persuasively in his book Woke, Inc., one of the most disturbing trends in American life during recent years has been the fusion of left-wing identity politics with large chunks of corporate power. Some prominent multinational business, industrial, and financial leaders in this country seem to feel the need to constantly signal their liberal virtue by picking sides in the Left’s never-ending culture war against the rest of us. Moreover, in certain cases, these leaders exercise what amounts to a monopoly, notably in high technology. This is where DeSantis comes in. As he said in his September address: “Corporatism is not free enterprise….They are trying to enforce an orthodoxy on this country.”
The truth is a good many American businessmen, bankers, and industrialists quietly despise this trend toward left-wing identity politics within their own ranks.
Governor DeSantis believes, and evidently is willing to act on the belief, that woke corporate power is a serious threat to traditional American liberties. For example, when a large multinational corporation acts in loose coordination on some controversial public matter alongside a network of social justice activists, Democratic Party politicians, liberal-leaning journalists, politically correct academics, and sympathetic bureaucrats borrowed inside the administrative state, this is not a strictly private matter. It is even less so when that same corporation simultaneously expects subsidies and tax breaks off the public teat. With that in mind, DeSantis has fought and won a series of dustups over a long list of issues including illegal immigration, criminal policing, judicial activism, K through 12 education, Florida’s university system, and gender ideology. The pattern has been the following:
The woke-industrial complex demands deference on some controversial issue at the state level inside Florida.
DeSantis informs himself on the matter, picks his fights carefully, takes a strong position, and refuses to defer.
As it turns out, the majority of Floridians agree with DeSantis. He wins.
Rinse and repeat.
Needless to say, this pattern drives woke establishmentarians up the wall. Who does DeSantis think he is! Doesn’t he understand that left-liberal elites get to play referee, even as they lead one team on the field in this country’s two-party system?
Still, the governor persists in standing up to the woke-industrial complex—and winning. His recent successful fight with the College Board over the teaching of African-American history is only the latest example. Should students learn African-American history? Yes, without any doubt. Taxpayer support for aggressively left-wing ideologies foisted on our students under the guise of said history? No.
This is a dramatic victory for a sane, welcome approach to higher education, as opposed to the fanatical nonsense we’ve seen from progressives over the past several years. DeSantis has now proposed that university DEI bureaucracies within the state of Florida should be defunded, allowing them to “wither on the vine.” This is how to do it. He is demonstrating that we need not accept some sort of left-wing Brezhnev doctrine inside the United States when it comes to rolling back woke insanity. Conservatives all around the country have noticed.
In the next installment of this series, I examine the DeSantis doctrine internationally.
Colin Dueck is a Professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, and a senior non-resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Image: Hunter Crenian/Shutterstock.com.